Hike through the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve and part of the Mount Vernon Trail for beautiful views of a Potomac River freshwater tidal wetland near Washington DC. These easy out-and-back hikes include dirt and paved paths and a long stretch of boardwalk over the marsh.
The paved Mount Vernon Trail parallels the George Washington Memorial Parkway along the western side of the Potomac River. The trail covers 18 miles, from Theodore Roosevelt Island in the north to George Washington's Mount Vernon in the south. It's a popular bike route but is also a good walking trail. Just use extra caution when the narrow trail is busy with cyclists, families, and dog walkers.
One of our picks for 8 Great Winter Walks, this hike combines a .7 mile walk out to the boardwalk over Dyke Marsh with a piece of the paved Mount Vernon Trai. We also love this hike in spring and fall when bright foliage lines the trail.
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Find more NoVA fun in our guide 20 Must-See Northern Virginia Hidden Gems Rich in Nature and History
Mount Vernon Trail at Belle Haven Park
Park in the northern Belle Haven parking area to reach both Dyke Marsh Preserve and the Mount Vernon Trail. Before you hike, walk over to the river for a look across the Potomac. You can see the Woodrow Woodson Memorial Bridge to your left, with National Harbor and the Capitol Wheel visible on the Maryland side.
Wondering about the small white building under the midpoint of the bridge? Stop at the sign in front of the bathrooms (clean flush toilets) to read about the lighthouse at Jones Point Park, which was the southernmost boundary of DC between 1790 and 1846.
Now head south either through the park or, if it's muddy, on the paved trail. When you reach the road where you entered the parking area, turn left toward the marina. In the summer this is a popular place to rent kayaks, canoes, and sailboats. Watch for the entrance sign to the Dyke Marsh trail across the drive, as you near the marina.
Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve
From the entrance sign to the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, it's a .7 mile walk out to viewing platforms and a boardwalk over the marsh. The dirt Haul Road Trail follows the edge of the Potomac and there are several spots where you can stop on the beach for views across to Maryland or back toward the bridge.
The Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserves 485 acres, preserving the tidal marsh and swampland forest. Past the marina, the tree coverage thickens and you'll have nice views of the marshland.
The marshland has had a rough history and the result is visible erosion and concrete debris. The land was dyked in the 1800s to create more farmland. In the 1900s developers dredged the area and dug gravel out of the marsh, then dumped debris in its place.
Now protected as “an irreplaceable wetland,” the National Park Service is working on a plan to restore Dyke Marsh. Despite earlier damage, the area is a haven for birds and other wildlife, with beautiful views of the Potomac. If you're an early riser, join the Friends of Dyke Marsh for a bird walk every Sunday at 8:00 AM, year-round.
Dyke Marsh Boardwalk
A boardwalk at the end of the dirt trail takes you out over the marsh and offers a platform for rest and bird watching.
Find more great boardwalk trails in 6 Beautiful Boardwalk Hikes in Northern Virginia.
The scene changes dramatically throughout the year and even during the day. During low tide, the muddy ground is visible, while at high tide, you may see fish in the water.
Mount Vernon Trail Boardwalk over Dyke Marsh
Backtrack to return to the park entrance. To extend your walk, continue south on the paved Mount Vernon Trail (watch out for bikes). The paved trail soon becomes a boardwalk as it crosses the marsh.
Here you'll enjoy a different view of the wetlands, which changes with the tides and seasons. Turn back for your return whenever you choose.
If you have extra time after your hike, drive south on the GW Parkway, stopping at one of the parking areas to catch more Potomac River views. There is a beautiful sunset view from Fort Hunt Park, shortly before you reach George Washington's Mount Vernon.
Have you visited the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve and Mount Vernon Trail boardwalks? We recommend visiting year-round to see the changing flora, birds, and Potomac River views.
Extend your trip at these places to visit nearby:
- Peaceful River Farm in Alexandria Virginia
- Visit George Washington's Distillery and Gristmill in Mount Vernon Virginia
- Fun Things to do at George Washington’s Estate in Mount Vernon Virginia
- 5 Ways to Explore Arlington National Cemetery
- Visit Stabler-Leadbetter Apothecary Museum in Old Town Alexandria VA